Both extract and all-grain brewers need a good, sturdy kettle for conducting a 60-minute or longer boil. Although you can certainly start out by borrowing a stock pot from the kitchen cupboard, eventually you’ll want to upgrade to a dedicated kettle just for beer. Here are a few things to look for.
Make size your number one consideration because it directly affects what you can brew and how much. Certainly, beginner homebrewers can get away with a pot as small as 3 gallons, but making the best beer possible means boiling as much wort as possible. All-grain homebrewers will need to boil a full volume from the get-go. Plan for the future and buy a kettle that’s at least 1.5 times your batch size. For a 5-gallon batch, that means a kettle of at least 7.5 gallons. Going twice as large gives you even more insurance against a boil over.
Both amateur and professional brewers prefer stainless steel because it’s non-reactive and easy to clean. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive, but since you’ll use this piece of equipment indefinitely, the sticker shock is a little easier to stomach. Aluminum is another good option. It’s lightweight and inexpensive, and aluminum conducts heat much better than stainless. Some consumers are concerned about potential aluminum toxicity, but commercial kitchens use aluminum stockpots every day. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference. Neither aluminum nor stainless steel should be cleaned with bleach-based cleaners, as these can degrade both metals.
Look for a brew kettle with sturdy handles that are riveted to the body. Welded handles can fail and frequently do—not the sort of thing you want to risk when you’re handling a pot full of hot wort! Thick walls even out hot spots and help your kettle better stand up to the abuse of an occasional ding or drop. Some stainless kettles feature tri-clad bottoms, which offer even better heat distribution and insurance against scorched wort.
Even the most basic of brew kettles will boil wort, but some features of particular interest to homebrewers can make your brew day go more smoothly. Here are a few extras to consider:
- Graduated volume markings or a sight glass
- Integrated ball valve spigot for draining to the fermentor
- Integrated thermometer
A quality brew kettle is an investment that will last you for many years. Take the time to do your research, and select a kettle that will serve both your current and future needs.